Friday, February 5

REVIEW: Hail, Caesar!

Directed by Ethan & Joel Coen
2016 Comedy Drama Musical
1 hour 40 minutes
From Universal Pictures

Josh Brolin
George Clooney
Alden Ehrenreich
Ralph Fiennes
Jonah Hill
Scarlett Johansson
Frances McDormand
Tilda Swinton
Channing Tatum

There are those who will probably rip this movie apart, most especially carping that it's not up to the standards of a Coen brothers flick.  There are others, devotees of the writing-directing siblings, who feel they can do no wrong.  I would find both groups a bit out there.  It's somewhere in the middle.

And there are some like me who love movies about Hollywood, particularly old Hollywood, and this is one of those.  So even if it isn't perfect Coen brothers, it was a lovely trip down Memory Lane, Hollywood-style.

The story concerns Eddie Mannix (Brolin), a fixer at Capitol Pictures.  It's his job to see to it that his stars are playing by the rules but if there is an occasional misstep, he's right there with his mop and dustpan.  Most important is to keep any infractions from the gossip columnists of the day.

Eddie Mannix was a real person and a true fixer at MGM and everything about this screenplay has MGM written all over it.  (I noted a bit of trivia when I realized that while Brolin played Mannix, his ex-wife, Diane Lane, played Mrs. Mannix in 2006s Hollywoodland .  You can dazzle your friends.)  For most of the film Mannix has to deal with his top star (Clooney) being kidnapped by a mysterious group of Communist writers.  (The Coens do seem to love kidnappings since they featured them in Raising Arizona, The Big Lebowski and Fargo.)  Clooney's Roman general certainly reminds one of Robert Taylor in MGMs Quo Vadis (1952).

Likewise, Johannson plays a swimming star (not exactly a leap to consider MGMs Esther Williams) who needs to hide a pregnancy and won't reveal the father.  When the suggestion is made that an adoption be set up, allowing her to adopt her own child, one is reminded that that occurred with Loretta Young and MGMs Clark Gable.

Mannix has to deal with an aesthete director (Fiennes) who is upset that a cowboy star (Ehrenreich) has been foisted upon him for a film about high society.  Then there's a near-fatal accident involving a film editor (perhaps based on longtime MGM editor, Margaret Booth) and a Gene Kelly-like dancing sailor (a blonded Tatum) who is leading a secret life.  Mannix also must keep at bay twin gossip mavens, both played by Swinton.

The cast turns in credible performances but I must single out young Ehrenreich for injecting some liveliness into the proceedings.  Only he, Clooney and Brolin have main roles.  All others are involved in just a few scenes.  My favorite scene is Tatum's dancing, a homoerotic musical segment, featuring a song called No Dames. It provides further proof that this actor was born too late.  How perfect he would have been for the MGM of the 1940s.

The period feel was spot on.  Art and set decoration certainly connected.  Loved all the old cars and vintage clothing.

My main complaint is the rather haphazard way the film is laid out.  Usually the brothers and their editors handle this chore with a bit more polish.  The episodic feel seems a bit too rushed at times and yet there are countless scenes that certainly drag.  It intermingles drama with satiric comedy in a loose-as-a-goose manner that gives the film an unfortunate uneven feel.

Like I said about Jane Got a Gun, this movie was also completed sometime ago and dumped in the February movie pool, never a good sign.  It's hard to not feel this was a bit of a missed opportunity for the Coen brothers.  Hey, you can't win 'em all.

Next posting:
The Brazilian Bombshell


  1. I enjoyed this one, even though it had problems, as you note. I felt the plotline was haphazard and that there were a lot of missing scenes, either cut in the editing process or never filmed. (I think the Channing Tatum communist subplot must have had more to it, because it made NO sense.)

    But so much fun, the actors were all divine. Ralph Fiennes character reminded me of Vincente Minnelli! Tilda Swinton was a cross between Hedda and Louella and Dear Abby and Ann Landers!

    And you are right, that Ehrenreich is a big star! I loved him the best!

    I always enjoy your blog.

  2. And I always enjoy hearing from you, Chris.